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Consultation published on safeguarding England’s wildlife

Words: Laura Edgar
Wildflower meadow / Shutterstock: 143503156

Environment secretary Michael Gove has proposed conservation covenants to legally safeguard England’s wildlife and natural environment.

Conservation covenants were outlined in the government’s 25-year environment plan.

The consultation seeks views about the best way to introduce conservation covenants, which would be voluntary but legally-binding agreements. Landowners would be able to leave a “permanent conservation legacy” on their land for future generations, said the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).

Used in other countries, the proposed covenants would allow landowners to make a public commitment to preserve and improve “treasured” features on land, including trees, woodland or flower-rich meadows. Overseen by responsible bodies to ensure that land management obligations are delivered, they would also be binding on future owners of the land.

Gove said conservation covenants are a “valuable new tool” to help protect the countryside.

“They allow landowners to safeguard nature on their land, securing long-term benefits and enabling vital investment in future conservation.”

He added that the proposals are being considered to the environment bill.

Scenarios that are likely to involve the use of conservation covenants are securing heritage sites, an alternative to land purchase by conservation organisations, payment for ecosystem services, or in a business context to secure the long-term maintenance of existing or newly created wildlife or heritage assets.

Natural England’s interim chief executive, Marian Spain, said: “Natural England has long believed that conservation covenants could be useful for land owners and secure long term environment gains for nature. It is pleasing to hear that a number of landowners and farmers are already interested and want to hear more about the government’s proposals."

The Law Commission recommended introducing a new statutory scheme of conservation covenants in England and Wales in its June 2014 report. Professor Nicholas Hopkins, commissioner for property, family and trust law at the Law Commission, said:
"These recommendations would make it simpler and easier for landowners to make agreements that that will protect the environment, archaeological sites and historically important buildings for generations to come."

The consultation, which closes on 22 March, can be found here on the Defra website.

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